Entry 14: How Balance Exercises Prevent Serious Injuries

When I first started to train for the Boston Marathon and work on increasing my speed, I suffered from a couple different bouts of tendonitis. The first thing the physical therapist did was check my balance when I was standing on one foot and then the other.  It was pretty comical to see how that simple act was difficult for me. Ask me to do that today and you will see a completely different result.  Ask me when I had tendonitis issues last and I would answer over a year ago. Working on improving my balance has helped me avoid injury and has improved my running performance.

Earlier this year, a study released by Reuters Health made a bold new statement: “Strength training and balance exercises are more likely to help prevent sports injuries than stretching.” While this new evidence does not call into question the importance of stretching when exercising, it places new emphasis on a type of strength training that many are not participating in.  Learning how balance exercises can prevent injury, and what exercises are recommended, can help you avoid serious injuries and enjoy healthy activity levels.

The Importance of Balance

Balance is your capacity to sustain your center of gravity over your base of support. Most don’t spend much time thinking about their balance until their balance is called into question.  But you don’t need to let a good fall or injury awaken you to your body’s unmet needs.  Balance training is an important part of active and non-active lifestyles.  If you are one that hasn’t given much thought to balance training start now.

Attention to balance and strengthening your core lead to improved posture, a decrease in back pain and performance improvement during physical activity.  Furthermore, having a good sense of balance is a crucial skill for avoiding injury.  If you have developed this skill, your mind and body will be able to make the fast adjustments necessary to avoid falling or to reduce damage from the impact of an unpreventable fall.

A 2013 study published in the British Medical Journal  showed that out of 17 clinical trials involving more than 4,300 participants over the age of 60, those that had incorporated balance exercises each day had a 37 percent reduced risk of injuries from falling and a 61 percent lower risk of breaking a bone from falling, in comparison with those who hadn’t attempted the balancing exercises.

The Benefits of Balance Training

Balance training has shown to have the following positive benefits:

  • Accelerated reaction times.This aids in reducing the impact of a fall by causing you to put out an arm or grab something secure.
  • Increased brain activity.Consistent exercise keeps the brain active and alert decreasing your risk for falls.
  • Enhanced coordination.This benefit prevents falls but also can help you react with better agility when you fall.
  • Increased muscle mass.Building muscles provides protection around bones and joints and can help soften a hard fall.
  • Healthier bones.Resistance exercises bolster bone tissue and make bones more able to avoid breaks.

Improved Balance Helps You Avoid Injury

Falling as a child was a common occurrence that rarely resulted in serious injury, but falling as an older adult is another story entirely which often results in broken bones and impaired mobility.  A Harvard Health publication estimates that at least one out of three people over age 65 fall each year.  These falls are often associated with things that affect the sense of balance.  Inner ear disorders which can cause dizziness, neuropathy, deteriorating eyesight, and muscles that don’t respond as quickly as they did years before all affect your sense of balance. Limited mobility can lead to an onslaught of other health struggles that are often difficult to recover from.  These injuries and challenges have psychological consequences as well as the victim begins to doubt their mobility, experiences fears of falling, and develops a growing sense of dependence on others.

Simple Balance Exercises You Can Try

Committing to improve your balance through weekly exercise means taking a big step forward in your current and future wellness.  When beginning, choose simple exercises that don’t rely on individual strength or endurance. Almost any activity can be adjusted to improve your balance.

The following simple exercises are recommended to help improve your balance:

  • Stand on one foot.Stand on one foot for a count of 10 to 20 seconds a few times a day. This is a simple exercise you can do just about anywhere at any time.
  • Stand up with no hand support.  Stand from a seated position without using your hands to balance yourself. Try sitting without using your hands as well.
  • Put your socks on while standing.Try putting your socks on while standing up. Lean against a bed so if you lose your balance, you’ll land on something soft.
  • Walk a line. Practice walking in a straight line–heel to toe, heel to toe.
  • Do one-legged squats.Bend one leg and dip down into a squat while balancing on the other leg. Do this ten times then switch legs.

Make sure and take the time to incorporate balance training into your weekly training workouts–you will be grateful you did!

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